Lymphoedema occurs when the lymphatic system does not function properly. It results in long term swelling of one or more parts of the body.

In the leg In the leg
Although lymph circulates freely in the tissues of the body, it also has a capillary system, like the capillaries of blood.Most of the fluids that seep of of the arterial capillaries return to the bloodstream via the venous capillaries, but about 10% of if is picked up by the lymph. In the leg

In the leg

The tissues in the body are constantly being supplied with clear fluid from the blood to both nourish and cleanse the tissues. Most of this fluid is again removed from the tissues by the blood, but approximately 10% of the fluid must be cleared away by another system called the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is made up of vessels which drain the clear lymph fluid, and nodes (or glands) which filter the lymph fluid to remove bacteria, dead or abnormal cells. This system plays an important role in the body’s defence against infection.

When the lymphatic system fails to function normally, the lymph fluid does not drain away, and swelling occurs. This swelling in the tissues beneath the skin is referred to as Lymphoedema.

Who can develop lymphoedema?

There are a number of conditions which will place a person at risk of developing lymphoedema. In some individuals the lymphatic system is not properly developed and lymphoedema may be present at birth, or show up during teenage years or young adulthood. In others it may be acquired after a severe injury (such as burns), or after an infection or disease (such as cancer) which damages the lymphatic vessels or nodes.

Surgery to remove lymph nodes, or radio-therapy following cancer treatment can also interrupt the drainage of lymph fluid from the affected part of the body.

Whilst lymphodema can occur in almost any part of the body, it most commonly occurs in the arms and legs.

It can appear soon after damage to the lymph system or it can occur months or years afterwards.

How do you recognise Lymphoedema?

Lymphoedema can be recognised by an unexplained swelling. Over time this swelling increases and can lead to a feeling of heaviness and discomfort in the area. If allowed to continue, the areas of swelling may increase and harden (often referred to as fibrosis) and may become painful. Lymphoedema can then lead to loss of mobility. The skin in the affected area is also prone to infections.

LYMPH VESSELS are present wherever there are blood vessels. Lymph vessels remove about 10% of fluid from the tissues of the body. LYMPH NODES Are abundant in the neck, under the jaw, under the arms, in the region of the liver, the intestines and the groin.